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COPENHAGEN, May 31, 2018 (News Wires) — Temperatures in Europe’s far north are breaking records, prompting Scandinavians to take dips in fjords well ahead of the official start of summer on June 21.

In the municipality of Etne, on Norway’s west coast, the mercury hit 32.7 degrees Celsius (90.86 degrees Fahrenheit) on Wednesday, a record for May.

Danish meteorologists say May has already broken records for sunshine, with 348 hours recorded by Wednesday — expected to reach 360 on Thursday. The previous high was 347.

People took dips in harbours and fjords across southern Norway, and bans on open fires because of dry forests and grass have been issued in many municipalities in Sweden.

BERLIN, May 20, 2018 (News Wires) - Diplomats from Europe, China and Russia are discussing a new accord to offer Iran financial aid to curb its ballistic missile development and meddling in the region, in the hope of salvaging its 2015 nuclear deal, a German newspaper reported on Sunday.

The officials will meet in Vienna in the coming week under the leadership of senior European Union diplomat Helga Schmid to discuss next steps after the May 8 decision by US President Donald Trump to pull out of a 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, the Welt am Sonntag newspaper said, citing senior EU sources.

Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China would participate in the meeting, but the United States would not, it said. It was not immediately clear if Iran - which has resisted calls to curb its ballistic missile programme in the past - would take part.

Under the 2015 deal, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear programme in return for the lifting of most Western sanctions. One of the main complaints of the Trump administration was that the accord did not cover Iran's missile programme or its support for armed groups in the Middle East which the West considers terrorists.

Concluding a new agreement that would maintain the nuclear provisions and curb ballistic missile development efforts and Tehran's activities in the region could help convince Trump to lift sanctions against Iran, the paper said.

"We have to get away from the name 'Vienna nuclear agreement' and add in a few additional elements. Only that will convince President Trump to agree and lift sanctions again," the paper quoted a senior EU diplomat as saying.

No immediate comment was available from the German foreign ministry.

The EU's energy chief sought to reassure Iran on Saturday that the 28-member bloc remained committed to salvaging the nuclear deal, and strengthening trade with Tehran.

Officials from the EU, Germany and other countries that remain committed to the deal have said it would disastrous if EU efforts fail to preserve it.

Iran has struggled to achieve financial benefits from the deal, partly because remaining unilateral US sanctions over its missile program deterred major Western investors from doing business with Tehran.

The officials are looking for a new approach given an understanding that it would be difficult for European firms to work around new US sanctions, the newspaper reported.

It said the new deal could include billions of dollars of financial aid for Iran, in line with an EU deal that provided billions in aid to Turkey for taking in millions of migrants and closing its borders, which helped end a 2015 migrant crisis.

Iran and European powers have made a good start in talks over how to salvage the 2015 deal but much depends on what happens in the next few weeks, Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif said last week.

MOSCOW, May 18, 2018 (News Wires) - Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that European countries should help Syria rebuild if they want refugees to return to the country.

Speaking alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the southern Russia city of Sochi, Putin called for the reconstruction of Syria to be depoliticised.

Russia has challenged the EU's stance that the West would only focus on humanitarian assistance but provide no money for Syria's reconstruction as long as President Bashar al-Assad fails to share power with the opposition.

ASSISI, Italy, May 12, 2018 (News Wires) - Europe needs to do more to end the war in Syria, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Saturday as she received a peace award from Franciscan monks in the birthplace of St. Francis.

Merkel was given the Franciscan order's "Lamp of Peace," joining previous recipients such as former Polish president Lech Walesa, the Dalai Lama, the late Israeli president Shimon Peres and Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos.

In an acceptance speech in the basilica, its walls lined with frescoes by the 13th century master Giotto, Merkel called Syria "one of the biggest humanitarian tragedies of our time" and said politicians had to work harder to end it.

"This conflict has become a conflict of regional interests, a conflict of religions … and that's why today's award reminds me and many other European leaders that we should be more involved in solving this conflict," she said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based war monitor, says more than half a million people have been killed in the Syrian war since it erupted seven years ago. About 85 percent of the dead were civilians killed by the forces of the Syrian government and its allies, according to the Observatory.

Speaking of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Merkel said "Those who thought that the end of the Cold War would bring peace to Europe were wrong".

More than 10,000 people have been killed since April 2014 in a conflict that pits Ukrainian forces against Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Intermittent clashes continue despite a notional ceasefire and diplomatic peace efforts.

Merkel, the daughter of a Lutheran minister in what was then East Germany, lit a candle on the tomb of St. Francis of Assisi, the 13th century saint of preached peace and defense of nature.

The head of the Assisi convent, Father Mauro Gambetti, said the Franciscans had decided to give the award to Merkel, who has defended the rights of refugees trying to find a better life in Europe, because of her "commitment to promoting peaceful coexistence among peoples."

"This lamp is an inspiration for me. I will keep it on my desk," she said.

LONDON, May 11, 2018 (News Wires) - European oil companies are not ruling out reducing Iranian oil imports after the threat of new US sanctions, with some expecting banking issues to hinder trade, but there was no rush to immediately cut volumes.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday the United States was exiting an international nuclear deal with Iran and would impose new sanctions that seek to reduce oil exports from OPEC's third-largest producer.

But as of Friday, companies in Europe said they were still taking Iranian oil. Iran pumps about 4 percent of the world's oil and exports about 450,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude to Europe, according to tanker-tracking data.

"At this moment, our trading activity is business as usual," said Marta Llorente, a spokeswoman for Spanish oil company Cepsa, one of Iran's customers in Europe.

"We strictly conform with European Union and international laws and regulations, and scrupulously respect any trade restriction that could occur from any potential international sanctions or embargo."

Another European buyer, Italy's Eni, said it is buying 2 million barrels a month of Iranian crude as part of a contract running to year-end, adding any new sanctions would take six months to kick in.

The U.S. sanctions have a 180-day period during which buyers should "wind down" oil purchases, meaning any loss of supply will not be immediately felt - and companies don't have to rush to find alternatives.

But Greece's biggest oil refiner Hellenic, which was the first European European company to agree to buy crude oil from the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) after sanctions on Iran were lifted in January 2016, rang a cautious note:

"We are closely monitoring developments following (the) U.S. administration decision ... and will assess our position and commercial arrangements accordingly," Hellenic said.

"In any case we will make sure that we comply with the applicable international regulatory framework and, given our crude supply flexibility and diversification, we do not expect any significant effect on our operations."

The bulk of Iran's crude exports, about 1.8 million bpd, go to Asia.

A decline in volumes due to the sanctions will add to upward pressure on oil prices, which have gained this year because of an OPEC-led supply cutting deal and strong global demand. Crude has topped $78 a barrel, the highest since 2014, following Trump's sanctions announcement.

Market participants said there were still many unanswered questions about how the United States might impact European companies.

"We're doing nothing," said the head of trading at another European refiner. "It's wait and see. If we're forced to reduce, we will. Iranian is not the only crude."

 

PARIS, April 27, 2018 (AP) — Police around Europe and North America have seized servers and data from Islamic State (IS) terrorist group propaganda outlets in a multi-country operation aimed at tracking down radicals and crimping the group's ability to spread its violent message.

The two-day operation was the culmination of efforts started in late 2015, after coordinated IS attacks that killed 130 people in Paris, according to a statement from European police agency Europol.

Police notably targeted the IS-branded Aamaq news agency, as well as al-Bayan radio, and Halumu and Nasher news sites. Aamaq spreads information online in at least nine languages and has been used to claim IS was behind attacks in multiple countries, from the 2016 nightclub attack in Florida to a deadly supermarket hostage-taking in southern France last month.

While Europol said the operation "punched a big hole in the capability of IS to spread propaganda online and radicalize young people in Europe," it didn't shut down the propaganda altogether.

For example, Nasher continued to share IS statements and Aamaq reports Friday through channels on encrypted messaging network Telegram.

The Islamic State group has used sophisticated and ever-changing communications tools to spread its apocalyptic message to disillusioned Muslims living in the West, to persuade them to reject Western ideals of pluralism and tolerance. High-quality videos, complete with thrumming beats and slick editing techniques, have unlimited reach thanks to social networks. Extremists with gentle American accents narrate radio broadcasts aimed at U.S. internet users.

European authorities involved in the operation Wednesday and Thursday said it showed the importance of international cooperation in fighting online radicalization, which has helped fuel deadly attacks in multiple countries in Europe and the U.S.

The operation was led by Belgian prosecutors and also involved authorities in the U.S., Canada, Britain, France, the Netherlands, Bulgaria and Romania.

It aimed "to destabilize this apparatus by seizing and dismantling servers used to diffuse IS propaganda and to identify and arrest its administrators," the Belgian public prosecutor's office said.

Two prior international police operations, notably targeting Aamaq's mobile app and web infrastructure, paved the way for this week's raids. One led by Spain's Civil Guard that seized servers in Panama allowed authorities to identify radicals in 133 countries via their interaction with IS propaganda, according to Europol and a Civil Guard statement.

The operation came as more than 70 countries vowed to bolster efforts to stop financing for IS and al-Qaida. Participants at an international conference in Paris on Thursday promised to improve international coordination and transparency of money flows.

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